Will a court pay attention?

April 13, 2021

If I had harbored even an iota of doubt about Junior Chandler’s innocence, it would’ve been vaporized by the podcast episode below.

Most dramatically, the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic’s meticulously assembled “Impossibility Exhibit” demonstrates that Junior was nowhere near the scene of his imaginary crimes….

But is the court paying attention?


Today’s random selection from the Little Rascals Day Care archives….


Focus on Lamb’s politics is off the mark

131014LambOct. 14, 2013

“Whether Nancy Lamb should be promoted to district attorney is not simply a question of Democrats vs. Republicans. (Lamb is a Democrat; the decision on whether to appoint her to fill the rest of the late Frank Parrish’s term rests with Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican.)

“A quarter-century ago, Lamb played a crucial role in the wrongful prosecution of the Edenton Seven, defendants in the Little Rascals Day Care case. Little Rascals was an especially notorious example of a wave of ‘satanic ritual abuse’ day-care prosecutions during the ’80s and early ’90s — virtually all of them based on hysteria and a misguided campaign to ‘Believe the Children.’ Today no respected social scientist believes these bizarre claims were anything more than a ‘moral panic.’

“Although she ranked below District Attorney H. P. Williams and Assistant Attorney General Bill Hart, it was Nancy Lamb who served not only as the prosecution’s closer in the courtroom, but also its public face. And it was Lamb who, after Williams dropped off the case, continued to cling to the discredited ‘ritual abuse’ fantasy and who vindictively conjured up an unrelated charge against Bob Kelly after his conviction had been resoundingly overturned by the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

“Little Rascals will remain a stain on the state of North Carolina until the Edenton Seven receive a statement of innocence such as that given the Duke lacrosse defendants. Neither the prosecutors nor their ill-trained therapists have ever expressed any regrets or made any amends. To even be considered for district attorney, Nancy Lamb should be willing to address her responsibility. If she still wants to argue that the defendants were guilty, let her do so.”

– From a letter I wrote last week to the Elizabeth City Daily Advance, the only daily newspaper in the seven-county First Prosecutorial District, taking issue with its editorial support of Nancy Lamb’s appointment as district attorney. Editorial is herepage PDFtext cache.

The 900-word editorial could come up with “only one possible explanation for McCrory’s reluctance to appoint her: partisan politics.” Unmentioned was Lamb’s responsibility in the district’s most infamous case – perhaps the Advance has forgotten? Or thinks she deserves to benefit from a prosecutorial statute of limitations?

My letter has yet to appear.

Scholarship minus skepticism = academic sham

120420FinkelhorApril 20, 2012

David Finkelhor’s “Nursery Crimes: Sexual Abuse in Day Care” (1988) helped lay the foundation for the moral panic that would soon engulf Edenton and so many other ill-starred towns.

Finkelhor, a respected and widely published sociologist at the University of New Hampshire, built a Potemkin village of statistical tables – “Victim Characteristics by Type of Perpetrator,” etc. – that concealed the utter worthlessness of his data. He was wrong from the first chapter, accepting unsubstantiated claims of ritual abuse as reality, to the last, recommending that “parents, licensing and law-enforcement officials be educated to view females as potential sex-abusers.”

This is from a recent exchange Finkelhor and I had via email:

Q: In “Nursery Crimes” you accept that ritual sexual abuse did in fact occur at Little Rascals, McMartin, Wee Care, etc., and give little credence to the “backlash” against such prosecutions. Has your position changed?

A: This was a while ago and I have not revisited the case. Our research did not conduct any independent review of the evidence, but simply coded the conclusion of the investigator we interviewed. So I was neither an authority about the validity of claims at the time or at the present.

Q: Yes, I understand that your research and analysis relied entirely on “local investigating agencies (that) had decided that abuse had occurred” (p. 13).

But I’m not finding in “Nursery Crimes” any skepticism about these prosecutorial allegations. In fact, the book seems only to reinforce the belief that satanic ritual abuse was a frequent occurrence in the nation’s day cares. Am I misjudging it?

Stephen Ceci and Maggie Bruck are but two of the researchers who have detailed the contaminated interview techniques that supported each of these cases. And of course almost all the defendants eventually went free, either when charges were dropped or their guilty verdicts overturned.

Would you consider returning to this subject and, if you so chose, changing your public position? I know the defendants – innocent citizens who saw their lives crushed by unfounded charges – would appreciate it.

No response yet to my second question. If I receive one, I’ll post it.

Counselors gotta counsel – but about what?

Oct. 8, 2012

“Even those (ritual-abuse day-care cases) that resulted in acquittals… reflect hundreds of children and their family members referred to counseling.

“Many families were limited to a handful of approved counselors, who also helped police and prosecutors by eliciting testimony from the children. One must wonder what these counselors counsel these children about, particularly in cases in which allegations were later proved to have come from them rather than from the children – and considering that the children began showing symptoms of abuse only after disclosing – the reverse of abused children’s usual responses to counseling.”

– From “Assessing the Costs of False Allegations of Child Abuse: A Prescriptive” by Susan Kiss Sarnoff (IPT Journal, 1997)

What a calamitous exploitation of the children – but what a canny career move for the therapists!

Chandler’s hopes rest with innocence project

May 6, 2013

When last we left Junior Chandler, his former appellate defender, Mark Montgomery, had asked North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services to look into the case.

But NCPLS requires the prisoner himself to request help, and that hasn’t happened. “Like a lot of the old-timers, Junior does not think they (NCPLS) are worth much,” Montgomery says. “There was a big shake up there a few years ago, and they are now very aggressive and as effective as anybody in post-conviction cases. I am going to encourage Junior (again) to ask for their help….”

Meanwhile, he has pitched Junior’s case to Christine Mumma at the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence.

Here’s the essential “evidence of actual innocence” that Montgomery offered Mumma:

“Lathern Hensley (a.k.a. Buddy Norton) was one of the adult mentally retarded riders on Junior’s bus. He and another woman testified that Junior did stuff, and they helped. They each got probation-only plea deals. I found Hensley, but his guardian wouldn’t let me talk with him. The Actual Innocence folks (with powers granted by the state) could insist on talking with Hensley. I think he would say that he was pressured into lying on the stand.”

This is just the latest long shot in overturning Junior’s wrongful conviction, and even if the Center on Actual Innocence agrees to take the case, the process is anything but swift. As the Center’s website cautions, “We counsel patience to inmates and their families during the investigative phase as the process of gathering additional documentation; identifying, locating and interviewing witnesses; and completing many other investigative tasks can take several years.”

Three jurors blamed stresses for verdict they regretted

Roswell Streeter


Roswell Streeter

June 24, 2016

“I was a juror on the Edenton Little Rascals sex abuse case, and I heard all the facts.

“During eight months of testimony I heard no evidence to prove that Bob Kelly was guilty of any charge. I did hear children, parents and grandparents say that they believe sex abuse took place at the day care. I heard children talk about bizarre things that were supposed to have happened at the day care and other places (often being reminded by the prosecution). I heard parents say they believe sex abuse took place at the day care.

“I also heard the same parents talk about their child’s normal behavior and how they noticed no abnormalities and that their children were fine and that they didn’t believe the allegations. I also heard how children asked parents why the day care closed and stated how they liked Mr. Bob and Mrs. Betsy.

“I feel it’s very important that readers know what was going on in Edenton at the time of the allegations. We know what was said in court 2 1/2 years later. Do you ever wonder what the evidence would have been if the case went to trial six months after allegations? Well, I don’t have to wonder. Other than the evidence lost or destroyed, I heard it all, and I’ll say this to the last day of my life, that the evidence that came through the courtroom did not prove that Bob Kelly committed any kind of sex abuse.

“To the grandmother who feels jurors made fools of themselves for appearing on ‘Frontline’ to try and tell the world the truth about the Little Rascals sex abuse case, then so be it.”

Roswell Streeter

– From “Court evidence did not prove Kelly guilty,” letter to the editor of the Greenville (N.C.) Daily Reflector (Sept. 3, 1993)

Forty-five days earlier, Streeter and four other jurors had appeared on “Innocence Lost: The Verdict,” revealing to Ofra Bikel how they came to vote guilty.

From the “Frontline” web page: “Of the five jurors interviewed, only two were fully comfortable with the verdict they had issued. In both cases, it was the children’s testimony that had convinced them. The other three jurors were troubled and said they regretted their verdict and had serious doubts about Bob Kelly’s guilt. Two jurors, Mary Nichols and Marvin Shackelford, said that worries about their personal health (Shackelford had had two heart attacks, and Mary Nichols was very ill with leukemia) had driven them to vote guilty just to resolve the endless deliberations and go home. Roswell Streeter, who at 28 was the youngest member of the jury, said he felt intimidated and confused, and finally lost all sense of perspective.”

One of the two jurors who acknowledged no doubts about Kelly’s guilt was Dennis T. Ray, who wound up in court defending (not very persuasively) his own behavior.


‘Capturing the Friedmans’ didn’t capture the Kellys

June 26, 2013

The suburban New York child sex abuse case documented in the Oscar-nominated “Capturing the Friedmans” (2003) returned to the spotlight Monday, this time because of a review panel’s finding that Jesse Friedman had in fact been rightfully convicted.

Although the New York Times describes the Friedman case as having come “to symbolize an era of sensational, often-suspect accusations of child molestation,” many aspects – including the 1988 confessions of both the defendant and his father – make it an outlier to the epidemic of day-care cases of that era.

The review panel itself emphasized this distinction, the Associated Press points out:

“The Friedman case has drawn comparisons to the 1980s McMartin Preschool scandal, but the investigators said they ‘were in no way similar.’ In the McMartin case, the report noted, more than 200 preschool children described being sexually abused by teachers, but only after months of highly suggestive questioning by social workers working with prosecutors. The report noted in the Friedman case, the victims were more than twice as old as the McMartin preschoolers and many in the Friedman case disclosed abuse quickly.”

Regardless, there are similarities, too. In an interview with the Village Voice interview last month, Jesse Friedman had this to say about the young computer students who testified against him:

“When I was in prison, my hope always hung on the idea that, give it five or 10 years; once they get to college, once they’re actual adults, once they’re old enough to no longer be living at home with their parents in Great Neck, they will come forward and admit that they lied.

“When (journalist( Debbie Nathan came to visit me, she told me that most of the complainants in the McMartin case publicly affirm that they were raped and abused in the McMartin Preschool. Whereas that case has been thoroughly, completely vetted beyond all doubt that nothing happened. And yet the kids involved believe that they were abused. She said, ‘You really can’t hang your hopes on the idea that the kids know that they lied and that nothing happened. Because they might very well think that something happened.’ “

Do the now-grown child-witnesses in the Little Rascals case “know that they lied and that nothing happened”? Or does the shapeless memory of their supposed abuse remain forever sealed from self-examination?

Why we could see another Little Rascals case

Oct. 12, 2011

In the digital age more than ever before, no bad idea ever dies. Consider (neo)Nazism, creationism and vaccine-caused autism.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, ritual sex abuse is still being promoted as a significant national peril.

The possibility of another episode of day-care hysteria – e.g., Little Rascals, McMartin, Fells Acres, Wee Care – has lessened but certainly not vanished. A repeat of history requires only an angry parent or two, an agenda-guided therapist and a fervid prosecutor.